[Interview] Random Rab brings love and light to Terminal West.
Random Rab's latest stop through Terminal West was like a collective dream shared with strangers. His dreamy, yet progressive music kept the audience enthralled while we all basked in the glow of his unconventional stage lighting. Large light bulbs dimmed and brightened around him like giant fireflies, as we enjoyed the beautiful music together. Cloudchord opened up the night with some beautiful guitar playing over simple beats and the crowd filled in early to catch his set. We caught up with Random Rab back in the green room to pick his brain about music, the world, and the future of it all.
Let’s talk about this tour? What’s been your favorite city or event on this tour?
It’s hard to really nail down a favorite, but starting in my hometown, and then coming out to New York, and playing COSM. I guess that was a big highlight. You know COSM? Chapel of Sacred Mirrors? You know who Alex Grey is? The artist? He has a place called COSM in upstate New York. So, we played up there. That was amazing, but the highlight has been that and also we’ve been camping pretty much this whole tour, and not not sleeping in hotels, and going to National Parks like Mammoth and Niagara Falls.
Well, it’s been different people. I started the tour with Lappa. We did two weeks together, and he’s the violin player for Emancipator, and then a French producer named Clozee And now this is Cloudchord. And then Alex who is my assistant, and also my merch guy.
Note: Clozee is actually how I initially found out about Random Rab, via his remix of Rab's 39 Circles.
So you’ve been to Burning Man how many times?
18 times in a row.
I hear a lot of people complain that Burning Man is changing, and the Festival and even Burn culture is changing in a way they don’t like.
There’s always going to be people disappointed if things change, for sure. And yeah, some things are better and some things are worse. When I started going it was much smaller, and it’s nice to reminisce about those days, but when it comes down to it, the more people that are exposed to this culture, and to art, the better. And so, it’s become bigger and more extreme, but there’s so many more people coming, and their lives are getting changed, so I think it’s good. There’s always gonna be that nostalgia for the way things were, especially in the Festival scene, because every single festival starts small, and then it gets big. If it’s a good festival, that’s just the way it goes, unless they cap it. I think I’ve gone 18 years in a row for a reason, you know, because I love it every year. My experience is maybe a little bit skewed because I play music, and that’s what it’s all about for me. But, I think it’s still pretty on point. The only problem would probably be the fact that it’s really hard to get tickets. And I find that aspect of it, the exclusivity of being able to get tickets, a little frustrating, but beyond that it’s all good.
You’ve been making music for years now…
What do you think you see that’s changing in culture, that maybe someone 18 or 20-years-old isn’t able to see?
Well, the obvious one would be the explosion of the internet and social media. What hasn’t changed because of that? That’s changed the whole structure of the music industry. We were just talking about this last night, about how it used to be when I first started in a metal band. It was all about getting signed. You had to get signed to a label. And now, getting signed doesn’t have the same gravitas that it used to.
But there are more opportunities for independent artists outside of traditional labels.
Well, that’s the thing. There’s massive amounts of opportunity that there never were before and we’re all on a level playing field. If you make a beautiful piece of music, there’s no reason that it won't’ be appreciated by millions of people. Nothing can stop a beautiful piece of art from reaching the masses. I’ve noticed that some people have an advantage because of their label or whatever, but when it comes down to it at the end of the day, a beautiful piece of music will overcome all of that. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Nothing stopping anyone.
And the second thing I’ve noticed which is a big change, is there’s just a lot more of everything. A lot more musicians who are producing music. It’s really easy now to produce music. However, it’s much easier to produce crap too, so there’s just a lot more to sift through. I think defining yourself, defining your sound, standing out, doing what you’re truly passionate about is the most important thing you can do. If you try and create music that maybe doesn’t represent you as a person, you’re going to be stuck at that party for the rest of your life. Make something that you actually like, and don’t try to please anybody, because that becomes your life every single night. I know, on this tour, I have to listen to these songs every single night and enjoy it, and if I don’t like it, what am I really doing? I might as well work at a bank. Do what you love. Love what you do.
What’s something you really hope to see happen in your lifetime?
There’s so many! I think love and respect for this planet that we live on would be probably number one. Nothing else is possible unless we can treat this planet properly and have a place to thrive. If we don’t do that, then none of our other hopes and dreams really matter. I’m a father now. I’m passing on this world to my son, and we’ve done a real job on this planet, and I hope that we can make a difference there. That would be number one. I can’t really think of anything else that’s more important than that.
You’ve managed to get an album in the iTunes Top 10, despite the fact that most people have no idea who you are. You’ve managed to create a channel for your success. How involved do you feel with the music industry at large? You’re not a pop star, but you’re very popular among your fans.
I’m 40, and there’s two aspects to the music industry. There’s the whole live performance world, which is what we’re involved in tonight. Festivals, performances, which are the nitty gritty of presenting the music in a live situation. On that part, I feel extremely connected to the music industry because that’s what I work in and live in every single day of my life. That’s a very intimate relationship. The rest of the music industry, I have almost zero connection with. It’s almost like a different world to me.
Do you make the most money on sales, or touring, or merch?
I think I fall in the 80/20 rule, where 80% of your income comes from playing shows, and the other 20% comes from everything else. Some people have figured out ways to get licensing arrangements, but I think the 80/20 model is a pretty typical model. It used to be that your toured to support your album, but now you release an album to support your tours. The only way I’m making a living and supporting my family is to play these shows. Buying tickets. People always ask how they can support, and I’m like, come to the show.
People who follow you really respect your opinions. Do you have anything to say about U.S. politics right now?
What I realized is that people aren’t really interested in me, and I’m not interested in me. I don’t want anybody interested in me or my ideas, because really what I’m striving for, and what I feel people really connect with is truth, and the sound of truth. When I’m writing lyrics or coming up with an idea behind a song, I’m not trying to tell a story. I’m just trying to unveil truth and the sound of truth. And what is that? I’m trying to find these archetypal deep roots, definitions, meanings behind what is really happening. And I think if we all step back and look at what’s happening around us with politics and all that, we can all see the insanity of the true madness behind it. Because we’re a bunch of monkeys gone crazy on this world with nuclear weapons, and we think that we know so much.
Yes, I have opinions about politics, but when it comes down to what Random Rab is about, and the art that I’m trying to create, that really has zero meaning for me. The only part of it that I feel like I really want to address is the trauma that comes along with dealing with these issues. The actual issues themselves don’t really matter, because they just change as time goes on. And these issues have been the same since humanity started being human. It’s like trying to look at the earth from a million miles away as a beautiful blue jewel going around a ball of fire. That’s the truth that I’m trying to access. That’s the story that’s most important to me. What’s actually happening on the thing (planet Earth)… you know, we’re a mold. You come and go, so good luck.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
I am currently about 60-70% done with my new album. I don’t know the exact release date, but hopefully within a year, and it’s going to be all vocal based. The last album I did was mostly instrumental, so this new one’s going to be all lyrical and vocal down tempo stuff. It’s going to be a shift in energy for me, so we’ll see what happens with touring. It’ll definitely put things in a different light. The concept is based around death and transformation, so we’ll see what happens from there. That’s what I’m most excited about.
Rab was a delight to meet and get to know. I sensed in him a deep longing for a better world, and a love of music and people. His music and energy transported us to a beautiful place for an hour or so, but the message he brings is anything but temporary. We would all do well to heed his words about this planet, our home... and not because a cool musician said it, but because that message is what his music is about searching for. It is the truth.
Photos by Lacey Smith for Bullet Music.